Walker Hayes Found Gratitude After Loss of Daughter Oakleigh

Walker Hayes and his wife, Laney, experienced every parent’s worst nightmare, when they lost their seventh child, daughter Oakleigh, shortly after her birth in 2018. The loss devastated Hayes, but it also gave him a new perspective on his life and career, unexpectedly finding gratitude from the most unimaginable heartache.

“It’s just hard not to be grateful for a day,” Hayes tells People. “If I wake up and I’ve got six kids that are alive, and they walk down the stairs, and my wife is alive, and she comes down the stairs, and we’re together, and we’ve got a roof over our heads, and I’m writing a song — man, that’s about as good as life gets right there.”

After years of guarding his and his family’s personal lives, losing their child freed him from feeling the need to create a division between who he was as a singer and who he was as a person.

“I think losing Oakleigh broke us so publicly, it was freeing to go, ‘We’re not invincible. We hurt, and we’ve got stuff to deal with,'” Hayes shares. “It sounded exhausting to keep that suppressed. And it was so freeing and therapeutic to let it go. Best-case scenario, it’ll help somebody today to see that our house is a frickin’ wreck.”

Still, not even Hayes could have predicted exactly how famous he would become, thanks to the viral success of “Fancy Like.” It’s something he could have never calculated on his own.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen to a 41-year-old dude with a wife, six kids, two dogs and two gerbils,” Hayes says, adding that he “accidentally” wrote a song for the everyday American.

“That’s what we accidentally did,” Hayes says. “We wrote about everybody who lives in a strip-mall town, and they’re fine with it. And you know what’s cool about it is, that’s me. My wife and I live in a cookie-cutter suburban neighborhood with a ballpark and a Y and some schools and strip malls — Chick-Fil-A, Kroger, Burger King, Waffle House, Applebee’s. That’s what it is. We’re obviously like a lot of people, and really, it’s freeing because, wow, there’re more dudes out there like me.”

While “Fancy Like” might seem like a light-hearted, fun song, there is a deeper meaning to Hayes, one that he may not have been able to embrace earlier in his career.

“To me, what it says is, ‘I’m okay if tomorrow looks just like today,” he reflects. “It’s a beautiful, peaceful feeling, like, this is life and it’s good enough.”

“Fancy Like” is from Hayes’ latest Country Stuff EP, released in June. Download his music here.